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Hello, this is Owen and this is my podcast for Friday 15th December, 2017. How is everyone doing? I’ve been having a great time in India. The more time I spend here, the longer I want to stay. Unfortunately, though, my time in India is coming to an end. I’ll be flying to the UK in a few days. I’ll have to come back soon though. There’s just so much to see. I mean, what about the far north? I haven’t done any hiking in the Himalayas yet. Next time, I guess.
Today, I’ll tell you about another form of meditation and a town where they make beautiful clothes.
It was time to leave the south of India. I had to get to the state of Gujarat in the north-west. Why? Because I wanted to do a special meditation course there. I travelled by train. I went through Mumbai - and eight hours in that city was enough for me. Then I stopped in Ahmedebad, the largest city in Gujarat. That’s where I got very bad food poisoning . I was very ill and I felt terrible for a few days, but luckily I got better and in the end I got to the district of Kutch for my 10-day Vipassana meditation course. Last time I told you about a Zen Buddhist meditation centre, and I said that it almost felt like a retirement home. Well, this new place was different, it felt more like a prison ! The ten days were brutal , I found. When you register on the first day you have to give them your phone and laptop and books; basically everything except for your clothes and toiletries. And then you shut your mouth, and you don’t talk for the next ten days. The ten days seemed like a very long time. The hours, minutes and seconds passed very slowly. For all this time you are sort of trapped  in your own mind, with your own thoughts and memories. That was surprisingly difficult and challenging. The course was started by a man called Goenka. He was a Burmese-Indian who died in 2013. It’s a course which uses the Buddha’s dharma to teach you a technique to purify  your mind, to clean out your head, and this will free you from all suffering . There are centres all around the world which offer this course. Lots of friends recommended it to me. One of my friends said: “One of the best things I’ve ever done.” So, how was it for me? I think there were moments every day when I wanted to quit . Our daily routine was this: We had to get up at 4:30 every morning. We meditated or tried to meditate for ten hours a day. Two hours before breakfast, three in the morning, four in the afternoon and one and a bit in the evening. And then it was bedtime at 9:30. Meditating can be very frustrating. To remain focused and not let your mind wander  is really hard. At least for me it is! Imagine sitting cross-legged on a cushion on the hard floor for ten hours fighting against your own mind. It’s really difficult. After five days of this, each student in the group gets a cell  – I told you it was like prison! The cells are very small, just two metres by one metre. And there are no lights and no windows. For the next five days I had to spend four to five hours meditating alone in my cell. At the end, I was very happy to leave, but now I feel like I learnt a lot. It was hard, but it definitely changed me in some ways. I will remember it as something quite significant  in my life. I’m even starting to think: “Should I do another one?” One man I met there said: “This is my 27th course.” You have to wait three months before you can do a second course. I’m thinking about it.
After the course I needed a rest, and I needed some time to recover  and get back into society. I travelled to Bhuj, the largest town in the Kutch region. I found a hotel room and for two days I stayed there and just went out for food. But then I gradually got back into things and I started exploring the town and its surroundings. My first impression was just so-so , it seemed like there wasn’t much to see or do in Bhuj. Nice but a bit boring. But then as I stayed longer I kept finding new and interesting things. Bhuj taught me that you can learn a lot if you stay in one place and really get to know it and its people. Every morning I walked around the neighbourhood. I stopped to drink chai with all the locals. The barber , the silversmith, the tailor , the textile seller, the antiques dealer, the Indian sweets seller - I got to know them all. After a while people invited me to their houses for dinner. And I was invited to two weddings. People took me to their villages in the countryside. In the end I stayed for more than three weeks in this hot and dusty  town. It’s on the edge of a desert, not far from the border with Pakistan. There was a big earthquake there in 2001, and a lot of the old town in Bhuj was destroyed. There’s some nice old architecture left, but, sadly, not much. People come to Bhuj to learn about the tribes in the area and about their handicrafts. There are a lot of tribes in Kutch and they all produce incredible goods. There’s leatherwork , jewellery, and a lot of textiles. I got very interested in the textiles. Most of the textiles here are cotton, but there is also some silk and linen as well. I watched people working with four different techniques: weaving in different ways, tie-dyeing , embroidering  and block printing. I loved the block printing. It’s kind of simple but I really like the process and the result. First they take small blocks of teak  wood and carve  designs into them. Then they use these blocks to print fabric. Usually they use a number of different blocks to create a complex design using different dyes. All the dyes they use are natural, for example turmeric  for yellow or indigo for blue. The people who practise this craft originally came from Sind province in Pakistan. The patterns they print are often in the geometrical Islamic style. The end products are very beautiful. In the end Bhuj was a nice place to spend some time and a good place to do some Christmas shopping.
Well, that’s about all from me. As always, thank you for listening and for all your comments. You can find all our episodes on our website podclub.ch or by downloading our app. You can also download our vocabulary trainer and you can find me on Instagram using the hashtags #PodClubOwen and #oweninchina. This is my last podcast for the year. Gerry will be back in January and my next podcast will be on 2nd February. I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I’ll be spending Christmas in Wales this year. I can’t wait, it’s been a while. ’Til next year, take care everyone. Goodbye!